A parallel between two entities
Over the years of Prisoner appreciation, there have been countless ideas and theories put forward regarding the Prisoner about what it all means, what McGoohan was trying to achieve, and at the same time reading all manner of meanings into the series, whilst busily searching for those so termed "hidden meanings." While others have looked for outside influences which may have been brought to bear during the writing of the scripts, such as Kafka's The Trial, Orwell's 1984, ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ and writer Jacques Cocteau. And finally there are those who look for the symbolic meaning behind the Prisoner, a church door perhaps, the village guardian symbolic of all our fears perhaps, and the penny farthing bicycle as the need to slow down man's technological progression.
Well I can promise you'll find none of that here in this article. Instead we are talking about drawing parallels, and a particular parallel between two separate entities, the Prisoner and the 1945 film ‘Dead of Night.’ Now it would be wrong of me to state that ‘Dead of Night’ played any kind of influence upon the Prisoner, because we will never know one way or the other, yet as separate entities both enjoy a wonderful array of actors and actresses as well as the need to break a particularly vicious circle!
So to begin with, the first entity which we are so familiar with, that of the Prisoner. A seventeen episode television series, filmed 1966-67 and as though it were a film! A car hurtles down an empty road. It is being driven by a man in his late thirties, his face is set in a grimace look of determination, either that or set against the wind! His journey takes him to the City of
where he parks his Lotus 7 in an underground car park. Somewhere, we are not sure where, the man arrives in an office, or rather he bursts into an office, where a bald headed man sits behind a desk. The action of the man shouting at the man sitting behind the desk, is accompanied by a great deal of anger and clashes of thunder which culminates in the man banging his fist down upon the desk, as well as his letter of resignation, upsetting a cup and saucer upon a tea plate in the action. London
Returning to his car in the underground car park, we see him drive through the streets of
, along the Mall and Park Lane, round the roundabout at London , and Marble Arch to his home in Buckingham Place. Followed most of the journey by a black hearse, that very same hearse parked in Buckingham Place as the man driving the Lotus 7 arrives home. Buckingham Palace
Two suitcases are already packed and waiting, he takes his passport and other travel documents, together with two colour photographs which he places in one of the two suitcases. But during this time one of two undertakers has entered the house, nerve gas is pumped into the study, the skyscrapers outside begin to spin round and the Prisoner falls back onto the couch unconscious. When he finally awakens he finds that he is no longer in his
home, but in his "home from home" in the village! London
Each of the 17 episodes of the Prisoner deals with No.6's incarceration in the village. His escape attempts, his fight with his captors, his struggle against the system, as he desperately tries to maintain his individuality, and that of his personal identity in a village full of numbers and "rotten cabbages!" Although as a whole the Prisoner is a series, each of the 17 episodes can be viewed as a separate story in their own right.
What I mean is, that you can watch the episode of ‘Checkmate’ without having to know what happened in the previous episode of ‘Dance of the Dead,’ or of any of the episodes previous to that.
The first episode of the Prisoner is Arrival, but is that the beginning of the series, as ‘Fall Out’ is the ending? Because in the ending of ‘Fall Out’ is the beginning of ‘Arrival’ and the Prisoner as a whole. Because no sooner does sir arrive home with his manservant the butler, then the Prisoner jumps in to his Lotus 7 and drives off. This while the butler enters No.1 Buckingham Place, the front door opening and closing automatically and with a very familiar electronic hum. Sir drives his Lotus 7 though the busy streets of
, a single word PRISONER appears on the screen. Then a clap of thunder as dark clouds gather over a long and deserted road, or runway, as a car hurtles towards us. There is a close up of the drivers face set in a grimace filling the screen as it did in the opening sequence of ‘Arrival’ and so the Prisoner begins all over again! London
And so it is with the prisoner etched upon our minds, I turn our attention to the 1945 film ‘Dead of Night.’ Now I have no idea how familiar the reader of this is with the film, or indeed if you have heard f it at all. Suffice to say that Dead of Night is constructed around 5 short stories, horror stories, ghost stories and tales of terror, from The Bus Conductor, The Haunted Mirror, Smee to The Ventriloquist’s Dummy, in themselves separate stories, but as a whole go to make up a recurring nightmare!
And so to the beginning of ‘Dead of Night,’ a soft top sports car travels along a tree-lined country lane, its registration is unimportant but I give it anyway, EYY 260. As the car arrives at a bend in the lane it comes to a halt and the driver can see a house which has come into view. The car moves forward once again and a matter of moments comes to a stop outside that very house which the driver had seen but a few moments earlier. There is a man, Eliot Foley, waiting outside the house to greet the driver of the car. Walter Craig, an architect and driver of the car, gets out and the two men meet. Foley takes Craig's suitcase and the two men walk towards the house along the garden path together.
Craig has been invited down for the weekend by Elliot Foley and will be staying with a group of people whom he has never met before, in an area of the country where he has never been before. Oh and the house.... Craig has never been in it before, but he does know that the house has but one living room and unconsciously knows where to hang his coat!
There is a strange look about Walter Craig as he meets other guests who are staying for the weekend. But after a moment or so he recognises a Doctor Van Stratton. Walter Craig tells the doctor that he has dreamt of him continually. In fact it turns out that Walter Craig has had a recurring dream of the house he now finds himself in and of all the people he now finds himself in the company of, in fact it turns out to be a nightmare!
Walter Craig begins to explain his dream to his fellow guests. "The dream starts exactly the same as I arrived just now. I turn off the main road into the lane. At the bend in the lane the house comes into view and I stop as I recognise it, then I drive on again and Foley meets me at the front door and I recognise him too. Then when I am taking off my coat, I have the most extraordinary feeling. I nearly turn and run for it because I know that I am going to come face to face with the same six people." But Walter Craig has no proof that he has dreamed his recurring dream.
I shall not relate any detail of the four short stories as it would be rather time consuming, and would serve no possible purpose to the entity as a whole. All the four short stories are different and self contained, linked together only by the house guests. However at the end of the story The Ventriloquists Dummy, the dummy "Hugo" which has come to life has it's hands round Walter Craig's throat!
Walter Craig wakens from his nightmare just as his wife walks into the bedroom and the telephone rings. Craig's wife answers the telephone and passes the receiver to her husband, who talks on the telephone for just a short time and then replaces the receiver upon its cradle. Walter Craig then tells his wife that it was a Mister Eliot Foley and that he has been invited down to Pilgrims Farm for the weekend. Foley wants a reconstruction job doing, Craig being an Architect you will recall. For a moment Walter Craig wonders why the name Pilgrims Farm sounds so familiar, but then appears to think no more of it.
Then a soft top sports car, registration EYY 260, travels along a tree-lined country lane. At a bend in the lane the car come to a halt and the driver can see a house which has come into view. The credits begin to roll and the car moves forward once again, finally coming to a stop outside the house. A man, Eliot Foley is waiting to greet the driver of the car. He takes Walter Craig's suitcase and the two men walk towards the house along the garden path together......
I cannot make up my mind if Walter Craig is experiencing a recurring dream/nightmare or if he is stuck in some vicious circle with no apparent way out. Or if Craig is actually "living" a nightmare, of his own mind for whatever reason. Which ever way, the parallels between ‘Dead of Night’ and that of the Prisoner are unmistakable, each in itself a "living nightmare!"
Over the past years of Prisoner appreciation, there have been countless ideas and theories put forward regarding the Prisoner...... hang on a minute, this seems very familiar to me. I've suddenly had the most awful thought that we've already been through all this before, in fact I know what's coming next........ about what it all means, what McGoohan was trying to achieve, and at the same time reading all manner of meanings into the series, whilst busily searching for those so termed "hidden meanings!"................. I was right!
Be seeing you.